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Imagine giving up your two-pack-a-day habit in an instant. That's exactly what happens to many cigarette smokers who suffer injuries to a prune-sized section of the brain called the insula, a recent study in the journal Science reported. Scientists are now looking for ways to safely disrupt the insula's circuits, relieving nicotine addicts of the urge to light up for long enough to quit.
The insula deciphers bodily states such as cold or hunger, and then generates emotions—like the desire to curl up in a blanket or eat pastrami on rye—in response.
No more than 5 percent of smokers are able to permanently quit on their own, according to Jed Rose, director of the Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research at Duke University, and 400,000 Americans die of smoking-related illnesses each year.
Don't wait for insula research to bear fruit. Smoking cessation programs can be helpful. A good one should:
▸ Have at least four to seven sessions and provide both self-help materials and counseling.
▸ Have sessions that last at least 20 to 30 minutes.
▸ Last at least two weeks past your quit date. The program is most useful after you have quit.
▸ Be affordable. Most state health departments can recommend a program in your area, and some health insurance companies will cover the cost.